Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision 02/11/99)


Aloha All! 

Here's the latest discovery (at least for those of us on the rock inmid-Pacific!) in djembe and doundoun instructional materials. 
Michael Markus has produced a series of four cassettes which explore one traditional West African rhythm each.  Markus is careful to qualify his materials by saying "..the listener should recognize that this tape does not represent a complete or definitive version of the rhythm. Rather, it is an introduction. Even in Guinea there is discrepancy from region to region on how the rhythm is played." 

The four rhythms are Soko, Kuku, Soli and Kassa. Each tape provides one (or more) breaks for the rhythm, 3 djembe accompaniment parts and the kenkeni, sangba and doundoun parts with the bells. The three djembe parts are played on three different pitched drums, making the interplay of the parts easy to hear and understand. Markus usually notes which is the bass djembe part as well. 

All the parts are demonstrated at slow easy tempos, counted in and begun with the appropriate break. Each tape has a segment where all the parts are played together in ensemble.  One great aspect of these sections is that one part at a time is layered in, and then played for 30 seconds or so before adding the next part. This makes it very clear how each part interacts and contributes to the final result.  Clearly Michael has a commitment to people PRACTICING and PLAYING as is indicated in his liner notes: 

"The reason why I made this tape is to give students a TOOL to work with in their PRACTICE. This tape is not about giving out information so that people can go teach a class. To really learn to drum, one must find a teacher. There is something special about the process of information being handed down personally versus through a tape, book or video." 

The instructional segments of the tapes are slowly and clearly presented. There is none of the usual explanation of sticking, hand technique or detailed counting out of rhythms.  He does call attention to tricky sections, entries, open/press djun tones and the like. The material is direct and to the point. Careful listening and basic skills will allow you to take immediate advantage of learning from these tapes. 

The ensemble sections are played at slow, medium and fast tempos, allowing the learner to play along with the group. Markus encourages the learner to play along with each part, play the parts against each other, practice improvising over the rhythms, dance to it - even listen to them in the car. Saturation is surely a key element in learning. 

Each tape includes brief information on the region, ethnic group and purpose of the rhythm. Markus' acknowledgment of his long list of (highly respected!) African teachers demonstrates that he's been learning from a lot of really good people! 

The cassettes are $12.95 plus $1.50 shipping and handling per tape, and can be ordered from: 

Michael J Markus Productions
228 East 26th St, #IC
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-9486

More good news:  Michael Markus intends to expand the series to at least 10 rhythms!

m. wall